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Freddie Ain't Free But Still a Value

Braves commit at the right time for first baseman.

Kevin C. Cox

I love Freddie.

As I head into the post, I felt I should make that clear, but I'll try to be objective nonetheless. Freeman does just about everything you would want except he doesn't do anything quite at an elite mark, though he's still very good at several things. He hits for average - .285 for his career is just fine, thanks. He walks a good bit - almost 10% BB% for his career. He's got some pop - .181 ISO (ISOlated power). And he's, at the very least, a more than competent defensive first baseman who may or may not, depending on who or what you believe, be one of the game's best. Add all of that up and take off for the fact that he and the Molinas might be the slowest people on the planet - ie. terrible baserunning value - and Freeman comes in as an All-Star-caliber player.

Just how good he is, however, remains under contention. He provided about 5 wins of value last season, but a decent chunk of that was added through a .371 BABIP. For normal people, that's a huge warning sign flashing "I WILL DIE SOON", but for a line-drive hitting Freeman, that mark is about 30 or so points above his career norm. He'll lose some value off his BA and OBP in all likelihood, but it shouldn't be catastrophic.

Then think about some of his peripherals. His strikeout rate has shrunk each season of his career - 22.5%, 21%, and 19% - while those LD% (Line Drive%) have increased - 23%, 26%, 27%. It's only a three-year trend, but it's certainly an encouraging one to include along with everything else. He's simply improving as a hitter.

The issue offensively, however, is his power. .181 for his career is a nice mark, but from a hulking man-beast and first baseman, one expects a little better. And his power numbers have been a little inconsistent to this date, but they are up from his from his rookie season. As he matures - physically and mentally (at least at the plate) - he should add power, which should help offset some of the loss in BA and OBP. If he gets to the 40-homer mark (I have a Las Vegas trip hanging on him doing it at some point in his career), he could pull his value past what he did in 2013.

And we can be so optimistic because of one single point - Freddie Freeman will be 24 for almost all of next season. That's what gets lost a little in this conversation. When Anthony Rizzo, Allen Craig, and Paul Goldschmidt signed their extensions last season, they will all be headed into their primes for the years Freeman just signed for - his arbitration years. FREDDIE WILL BE 24, 25, AND 26. HE WON'T GO INTO HIS PRIME YEARS UNTIL HIS FREE-AGENCY YEARS. The other players will be finishing their prime years.

That's the complete and utter beauty of all of this. Freeman is still a child in baseball years, and he's already fantastic. Even if he doesn't "peak" higher than he is now, that's still a good player. How good? Even considering drops in BABIP, etc., projection systems still have him around 4 wins of value next season, and Steamer even shorts him some games by projecting only 130 - this brings up another excellent point in that Freeman has always been durable, playing in at least 147 games a season. Considering his youth and that first isn't exactly physically taxing, I feel good about his health moving forward, though that isn't a certainty.

But let's take a look at the money. Freeman is a 4-5 win player, which in current money terms is worth about $24-30 million a season at a $6M per win clip. Let's see ... 135 divided by 8 ... carry the 1 ... is almost $17 million per season. That number is a little bogus, though, if you consider the first three are arbitration seasons. For those seasons, we're looking at roughly a breakdown of 5, 8, 11 for $24 million, leaving about ... moving abacus ... $111 million over 5 years. That leaves us with about $22 million for his free-agent seasons. And if I'm doing this numbers thing correctly, that's less than the $24-30 million figure we're throwing around now, and we're not even worrying about future inflation.

So what does Freeman need to do? Basically if he puts up 4 wins a season, he'll be a value each and every season. How likely is that to happen? Well if he's 24 next season and we add 7 years, he'll be 31-32 at the end of the contract, so the Braves are essentially missing his decline years with this contract. It's brilliant.

There is risk to this contract, of course. The Braves are paying Freeman off a breakout season he isn't likely to fully replicate (because it's just hard to do), and if he goes back to a 3-win or less player, the contract looks a bit worse than the rosy picture above. At 3 wins, he's a little overpaid, and if he's more of the 2-win player, than this contract will look bad. When you sign a player with only three years of service time, you don't have the same performance history, but that's also why you can still get them a little cheaper than pure free-agency money.

The contract certainly is a gamble. But all of the offensive trends are headed in the right direction - literally every single one. He's got a pretty clean health history. AND HE'S 24 YEARS OLD NEXT SEASON - NEXT SEASON! If you're going to gamble, at least gamble on the best years of a player's career. It's a lot of money,but it's money well-spent. And I mean, what prospect do the Braves have that could replace him?

Now, how does it affect the budget? Not much really. By the time he hits the big-money portion of the contract (theoretically - we still don't have official figures), Dan Uggla will be gone. BJ Upton will be on his last year. Jason Heyward and Justin Upton would be gone. Aaand, that'll be the first year of the new stadium.

My only concern remains who will be playing alongside Freeman when that new stadium opens.

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